NEW PORT RICHEY
Frank Hunt drove to two Publix stores and a Walmart. But it wasn't until later in the day that he spotted his first offender.
At the Heart Institute at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, a white Dodge was parked in a blue-striped spot, a blue handicap permit hanging in the windshield. The permit, dated 4-16, was expired.
"That's a ticket," Hunt said.
At age 90, Hunt is the oldest volunteer for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
As part of his duties, two days a week, he walks the entire length of the Walmart parking lot's handicap rows, checking each and every windshield and license plate for violations.
On a Thursday in late May, he was asked how his morning was going.
"Well," he said. "I'm walking."
• • •
Hunt has lived in Florida for more than 30 years. He is one of America's dwindling number of surviving World War II veterans.
He retired from a career in the printing industry in 1986 and began volunteering for the Sheriff's Office in 1999 when he read about its Civilian Service Unit in the newspaper.
Checking for handicap permits is Hunt's way of feeling connected, he said.
"I get to get out and see what's going on in the world."
Hunt's world changed when he turned 18. It was January 1945, a month after his birthday, when the Army drafted him into a round of replacement troops headed for Japan.
A "Yankee," Hunt was born and raised in Dorchester, Mass., a neighborhood of south Boston. Because of his late draft date, he was part of the California division of replacement troops that served in the Philippines, Okinawa and Korea.
"I lived on the East Coast, and they sent me halfway around the world," he said.
In 1947, he came home to an America he hardly recognized.
Like many of his friends, he had been stripped of his chance at a higher education. Businesses tried to return to normal, but often couldn't find work for veterans. He knew many veterans who couldn't find jobs.
Hunt, then 20, found work in an auto shop, where, by chance, he met an elderly man from Boston. The stranger asked Hunt, "How would you like a job in printing?"
Hunt took a job at Global Tickets. He and his wife, Elizabeth, moved out of his mother-in-law's home and into a two-bedroom apartment downtown. The couple had to convert the second bedroom into a kitchen.
"Those were tough times," he said. "Some of us were saying, 'What the hell did we fight the war for?' "
Hunt worked for Chicago-based GTE, printing phone books, for 35 years.
During that time, he and his wife had two sons. Hunt remembers his feelings of anxiety when his older son had to register for the Vietnam War draft.
"Fortunately, he didn't get drafted," Hunt said, adding that his son had an unusually high draft number. "I was tickled pink that he didn't."
• • •
When he volunteers with the Sheriff's Office, Hunt wears the official Pasco County Citizen Service Unit uniform: dark pants and a light shirt with Pasco County Sheriff's Office patches.
He is a true asset to the community, sheriff's Lt. David Rodriguez said. Many veterans volunteer with the unit, so there is a lot of camaraderie among the group, he said.
"He's very humble about his military experience," Rodriguez said. "He's 90 years old, he volunteered to serve his country and he still comes in to volunteer."
Hunt walked the entire parking lot at Walmart. It was sunny, so he wore his aviator shades.
He walked from car to car, first checking for the expiration dates on the hanging permits, then the license plates.
"17 ... 20 ... 16," he said as checked the years on the permits. "Ah. 6-16. That's getting close."
He passed a truck with a permit that sat discreetly on the dashboard, barely visible. He placed a "do's and don'ts" pamphlet under the windshield wiper.
Even though he doesn't like doing it, he confronted a woman in the passenger seat of a car sitting idly in a fire lane.
"That's illegal," he told her.
She assured him her husband would be right out.
"They always have excuses," he said later. No one wants to pay a $250 parking ticket.
Hunt tries to avoid the car owners as much as he can. He doesn't like when angry people shout in his face. His response is to let them yell.
"Act as if you didn't hear what they said," he said, and added, "I'm a coward."
The experiences aren't always volatile. At Publix, a woman passed Hunt on her way to her car. Hunt waved and said hello.
"That helps the sheriff's department out quite a bit," he said.
• • •
Hunt works on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He once volunteered more frequently, but wanted to spend more time with Elizabeth, so he reduced his hours.
In their free time, the couple often drive to the beach in Hudson and stop for ice cream. Hunt likes to get vanilla, sometimes chocolate, depending on the day.
He said he never wanted to be an old man "sitting around watching TV." Volunteering for the Sheriff's Office has kept him young.
"The older you get, your brain starts to fade a little bit," he explained.
Last month, the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., invited Hunt and his son on a free trip to see the nation's war memorials. During the trip, Hunt looked for veterans who served in his outfit.
"We dispersed through life," he said. "I can't say I've met anybody that I served with."
Hunt walked the entire monument trail on his own.
He said his son asked if he would appreciate a wheelchair.
"I'm not ready for that yet," Hunt said.
Contact Hannah Alani at [email protected] or (813) 909-4617. Follow @hannahalani.